Friday, July 10, 2015

Lesson #211: The Importance of First Impressions--A Red Rocket Case Study

Posted By: George Deeb - 7/10/2015

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As many of you know, I recently redesigned the Red Rocket Blog a couple months ago.  The original blog was designed in 2011 and it had a very dated feel, as you can see in the image above.  But, I didn't really care.  I was too busy doing consulting work.  And, I thought good content will be read regardless of the page design.  Especially, since in my mind, it was simply a blog to post some good articles, not a flashy e-commerce site, and it didn't look all that bad.  I thought as long as my main website looked nice, the blog didn't really matter.

The primary goal of the redesign was simply to give the blog a 2015 feel, to make it feel fresh. Nothing more than that.  Yes, I made the social "follow us" icons easier to find to grow followers. And, made the social sharing buttons on articles easier to find, to stimulate more viral sharing of the content.  And, added a contact us box on the blog itself, in addition to the main site.  But, most importantly, I added a bunch of visual images and made the various content categories easier to search,  rather than the simple "Index" link we had in the left column, which linked into largely text only articles.

I was looking at my Google Analytics data yesterday, just to check-in on the site traffic, and I almost fell out of my chair.  Yes, there is a little more monthly traffic coming to the site post the redesign, which is what I would have guessed.  BUT, I did not guess the following.  The bounce rate of the site (users that land on site and immediately exit) has fallen from 67% to 9%; the average articles read per visit doubled from 2 to 4; and the time spent on the site has also doubled.  All in the snap of a finger, like turning on a light switch on the exact same date of the redesign launching.  And, hopefully, over time, more engaged users, will result in more enlightened readers, more engaged social sharers and more client prospects.

That means the first-time blog visitors are now more impressed with what they first see, a new looking website with clearer navigation, rich with imagery.  And, hence, are more willing to "give it a try".  So, now instead of appealing to 33% of the site visitors, the blog is now appealing to 91% of the site visitors. What a difference a day makes . . . literally!

The first mistake I made was thinking "it is just a blog" (like an afterthought) for the Red Rocket Ventures site, which I had freshly updated and thought was enough.  When the reality is, most all of our site visitors' first experience with the Red Rocket brand was the blog, not the main website, given all the search engine traffic that comes into the content pages of the blog.  The "afterthought" was actually anything but, it was the "main enchilada".

The second mistake I made was thinking of the Red Rocket experience in a vacuum, what does the blog mean to us.  The problem is, there are hundreds of websites where you can get good startup tips, as I have written about in the past.  If I put on the hat of the first-time user, why waste time on this boring website I know nothing about, when I can get similar information from more flashy-looking sites like Entrepreneur.com or scores of others that are in the business of publishing professional content for this target market.

The argument that my content was more instructional and actionable may have been the case, hence the rapid growth of the blog over the years.  But, I have now learned, the hard way, how much traffic and potential client prospects I have left on the table.  To date, the blog has been read over 460,000 times by around 120,000 unique individuals, which means I left around 70,000 users disappointed by the original blog design and flushed those potential client touchpoints down the drain.  Ugh!  Glad it is fixed now.

So, the key lessons here: (1) first impressions matter, get it right; (2) give your blog the same design scrutiny you give your main website (as odds are that rich content is what Google is going to most grab onto for searchers); (3) don't study site traffic data alone, peel back the layers of the onion to see where opportunities for improvement may lie; and, as always, (4) give your users a visually appealing and easy-to-use experience, to get them initially engaged.  All common sense in hindsight, and exactly what I have written about in my past "how-to" lessons.  I guess I needed to do a better job of practicing what I preached.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


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